Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday they would block future nominations of President Barack Obama in a bid to force the White House to provide Congress with more information about last year's deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The senators are demanding that they and other lawmakers be allowed to read witness statements from survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, assault by Islamic jihadists that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of the terror attack on the United States.
"I'm going to block future nominations not because I want to shut something down, but because I want to open something up," Graham told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
McCain, the Arizona senator whom Obama defeated in the 2008 presidential election, called for Senate and House leaders to set up "a bipartisan, bicameral select committee with subpoena power" to investigate the Benghazi incident.
Graham has been among the leading Republican critics of the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attack. The South Carolinian said that Stevens before his death had warned his State Department superiors of increased danger in Benghazi, but that those warnings went unheeded.
"How could someone in Washington, given the level of threat that was being reported continuously by Chris himself, not approve (an) additional security request?" Graham told Fox News on Monday. "How did the consulate become a death trap? And we know now that this was a result of a pre-planned al-Qaida attack, with some very high-level operatives involved at leading the attack. It was never a protest as the result of a video gone bad."
Graham was referring to the claim five days after the Benghazi attack by Susan Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that it had been sparked by an anti-Muslim video on YouTube.
Graham, who faces GOP primary opposition in his re-election bid next year, targeted Hillary Clinton, the former first lady who was secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attack.
"Where was Hillary Clinton during all these multiple requests for security?" Graham asked. "And who the hell told Susan Rice this story about a protest gone bad? And who told the president there was no evidence of a pre-planned terrorist attack in light of all this information?"
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, criticized Graham and McCain.
"Blocking all nominees over a single issue contributes to gridlock and slows the confirmation process for well-qualified nominees," Tobias said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration has cooperated with Republican-led probes of Benghazi, with officials having testified at 13 congressional hearings, joined 40 staff briefings and provided more than 25,000 pages of documents.
"The State Department has worked in good faith to meet the Hill's many requests, and they will continue to review legitimate incoming requests," Carney said. "But let's be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes, and we find that unfortunate."
Some influential Democrats say Republicans' real goal in keeping up a drumbeat over Benghazi is to try to weaken the possible 2016 presidential prospects of Clinton, who has a large lead over other potential Democratic White House candidates.
Democrats also say that Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are blocking Obama nominees to boost their visibility for possible runs in 2016.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday criticized Paul for threatening to block Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve, and he rapped Cruz for placing a hold on Obama's pick of Tom Wheeler to sit on the Federal Communications Commission.
Graham, who has no known presidential ambitions, was undeterred. He vowed to delay all confirmable nominations until Obama allows U.S. survivors of the Benghazi attack to testify to Congress.
"I'm going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress. I'm tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Graham may have been referring in part to a segment on CBS News' "60 Minutes" show Sunday in which Army Lt. Col. Andy Wood, a Green Beret commander based in Tripoli, and Gregory Hicks, a U.S. diplomat who was also in the Libyan capital, said they'd warned superiors repeatedly about the threat of violence in Benghazi before the attack.